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Westgate Square, Wednesday June 2, 2010. The shopping center opened with great excitement about the new ShopKo store, in November, 1979. The store has had a facelift in recent years. Much of the rest of the shopping center is unrented now, however. Two of the most successful businesses are restaurants at the north end, the Main Moon 2 and Perkins restaurants. / Mark Hertzberg mhertzberg@journaltimes.com Buy this photo at jtreprints.com


Local
topical alert
BURLINGTON HIGH FOOTBALL
Burlington High football player says team is working to change its 'culture'

BURLINGTON — A Burlington High School football player is defending his teammates against racism allegations, saying that the team has worked to instill a new “culture” this season.

Colin Szymankiewicz, a senior linebacker and a captain on the football team, told school board members on Monday night that the team has been working to overcome issues from previous seasons.

While Szymankiewicz did not explicitly deny the new allegations that football players directed racial slurs at an opposing team, he said he does not believe his teammates would engage in such misconduct.

“We’ve been doing so good this season, and everything is so positive,” he said. “We’re getting a bad name and a bad rap.”

The Burlington Area School Board also heard from parents and others about the allegations stemming from Friday’s football game played in Burlington against Westosha Central High School.

Troy Moldenhauer told the board that his own adopted children of color were at Friday’s game, and they were subjected to racial slurs. But the hurtful insults, he said, came from parents rather than other students.

Moldenhauer said while he applauds Burlington teachers and staff, he said children are facing bad influences inside their own homes.

“Racial slurs were thrown at my sons by parents over and over during the entire game,” he said. “My kids are taught to love, and I’m really proud of them.”

School board members took no action and offered no response on the football team matter.

BASD officials earlier said they were investigating the allegations by trying to interview students, coaches, referees and others who might have witnessed what happened Friday night. Officials said the district would not tolerate racist behavior and would consider taking disciplinary action against those responsible, if the allegations are found to be true.

Central High School District of Westosha officials are cooperating with the investigation.

A group called the Burlington Coalition For Dismantling Racism said Saturday that allegations were surfacing that unidentified Burlington football players had directed racial slurs toward Westosha players following Friday night’s game, which Burlington won by a score of 20-17.

Burlington school officials later confirmed that such allegations were under investigation. At the time, the school district urged parents to stop letting their children use racial slurs.

The district also noted that Friday’s incident incident occurred on the same night that the football team and its fans were marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Laura Bielefeldt, a representative of the anti-racism coalition, told school board members Monday that it appeared as though the district was using the 9/11 anniversary to deflect criticism from the alleged racist behavior.

“It is completely outlandish,” Bielefeldt said. “Whoever issued that statement should be ashamed of themselves.”

Another speaker, Tom Coleman, told the school board that whoever is making accusations against the football team should be held accountable. Coleman claimed that similar accusations last year were found to be untrue.

“It’s creating allegations against good students, and our district isn’t going to do anything?” he said.

After an unnamed football player last year was accused of using racial slurs against an opposing team member — also on Westosha Central — the district determined that the player had used vulgar language, but could not confirm if any racial slurs were used.

In his remarks Monday to the school board, Szymankiewicz said Burlington faces many racially diverse teams, usually without incident. He credited first-year head coach Eric Sulik with working to change the team atmosphere in Burlington.

“We’re pushing this culture this year, that we’re professionals, we don’t need to talk,” he said. “We can let our playing do the talking.

“We’ve been doing really good this season. This is kind of a setback.”


Local
alert
RACINE THEATRE GUILD
Racine Theatre Guild's cautious new season: Cast and crew must be vaccinated, and the show must go on
  • 4 min to read

RACINE — To be or not to be?

That is the question that hangs in the air as the Racine Theatre Guild prepares for its 2021-22 season — just as the COVID-19 pandemic launches a revival.

“We’re moving forward — for now — even though the unknowns are many,” Joycelyn Fish said.

Fish is technically the director of marketing and development. However, the bulk of her efforts over the past 18 months have been in grant writing and grant management as the theater sought to keep itself afloat.

As of now, the shows are still scheduled, but there will be protocols in place to address COVID concerns — including a proof of vaccination requirement for all cast and crew, but not for audience members.

Dee Holzel / DEE HÖLZEL, dee.holzel@journaltimes.com 

Racine Theater Guild Director of Marketing and Development Joycelyn Fish and Managing and Artistic Director Doug Instenes practice social distancing as they sit in the RTG's theater, 2519 Northwestern Ave., awaiting reopening and a return to live performances.

A season of revivals

The Racine Theatre Guild was excited to announce its 2021-22 season with a list of family favorites, including two shows held over from the cancelled 2020-21 season: At the time they were canceled, “Akeelah and the Bee” was in final rehearsals before its opening and “Mamma Mia” had just begun rehearsals.

The theater has a play selection committee, and the shows for the season were chosen with some care.

Doug Instenes, the Racine Theatre Guild’s managing and artistic director, pointed out the season will open with plays that have small casts so as not to crowd the stage or backstage area.

“We’re doing some of the very popular plays that just make people laugh,” he said.

Dee Holzel / Courtesy of the Racine Theatre Guild 

Although the "Wizard of Oz" is a crowd favorite, it would take a large number of actors and crew members to stage the production, so it probably will not make a return to the Racine Theatre Guild until after the pandemic.  

In contrast, a show they decided not to bring back was “The Wizard of Oz” — despite its popularity — due to the size of the cast that would be needed.

When the theater opens its doors for the public in December, it will have been almost two years since they performed a play.

For that first show, scheduled to open Dec. 3, they decided on “A Christmas Story” — a crowd favorite and good for families.

Submitted photo 

The Racine Theatre Guild's plays for the 2021-22 season were chosen with care. The shows for the early part of the season were chosen both for their entertainment value and for their small casts, so as not to crowd the stage or backstage area with cast and crew. 

Protocols

The theater has a COVID committee and its own COVID protocols, since a performance venue is not quite like other businesses.

Under the current ordinance adopted by the City of Racine, performers do not have to wear masks on stage.

Submitted photo 

The Racine Theatre Guild's plays for the 2021-22 season were chosen with care. The shows for the early part of the season were chosen both for their entertainment value and for their small casts, so as not to crowd the stage or backstage area with cast and crew. 

Theater is hands-on and people-intensive as costumers measure and fit, while someone else helps get the wigs on, and someone else applies the makeup, and someone else passes out props, etc.

Under the rules adopted by the theater’s COVID committee, all production cast and crew will be required to show proof of vaccination to take part in plays or musicals.

Additionally, auditions for children’s roles will be open to kids 12 years and older who are fully vaccinated, until such a time as the vaccine becomes available for 10- and 11-year-olds.

One of the challenges for the theater and businesses everywhere is that people do not always respect the protocols.

What will they do if people come in without masks or even insist they will not wear one?

“It’s tough, because we love our patrons,” Instenes said. “We love our volunteers, and I do not want to get into a debate with anybody.”

So they are having ongoing discussions about the safest way forward.

RTG offers classes for children and has already adopted the protocols of the Racine Unified School District for that endeavor, i.e. with required masks.

Instenes said, “when Unified changes their protocol, we’ll change ours.”

There are some decisions that have not been made.

For example, RTG has never used understudies, but it is starting to look like a good idea — in case a lead actor is exposed to COVID just before the curtain opens.

Dee Holzel / Courtesy of the Racine Theatre Guild 

It can be a challenge in the theater to abide by health departments' social distancing recommendations. The actors must be measured and costumed. Later, they will have makeup applied and wigs adjusted. The Racine Theatre Guild's COVID committee has been working on protocols for the safety of cast and crew. 

Financials

In terms of the unknown, there are two that cause Fish and Instenes some concern.

The first is that people may not feel safe enough to come back to the theater in December, depending on the direction the COVID resurgence takes.

The second concern is the pandemic resurgence may reach the point the city has to reinstate limited seating rules.

Financially, the theater is doing OK, Fish said. She has been able to secure COVID grants and supporters have been particularly generous with their donations.

But with limited seating, there may be a problem if tickets sales for a play are not sufficient to cover the cost to produce it.

This is especially worrisome for large musicals, which are notoriously expensive to produce.

Instenes said that every show has a break-even point; that is, they have determined the number of tickets that will have to be sold to break even.

If they do not sell the number of tickets required to break even, then more difficult decisions will have to be made.

File photo 

The Racine Theatre Guild had to cancel its four main stage performances of Season 2020/2021: Act 2. After almost two years with the lights off, the return is expected in December 2021.

Planning

Theaters are different from businesses in another way: They need lots of time before the doors open. Months of planning and practice are put into each show.

RTG does not have the option to wait until November to see what happens with the pandemic. So it is cautiously moving forward.

“We are a community theater,” Fish said. “This last year-and-a-half has taught us a lot about what community means and what it means to have a support system, to be a place where people gather, and create friendships, and have memories.”

“It’s like not seeing your family for a long period of time,” Instenes added.

He said if there was anything positive that came out of the pandemic, it was that people learned to appreciate what they had previously taken for granted. The theater, theater friends, a play that volunteers worked on together, a night out with the grandkids, etc.

Instenes said he has been at RTG for 28 years and a professional for 35 years. In that time, there has never been a period where he went without a show for so long.

“The things you’ve taken for granted, and the people you’ve taken for granted, and the laughter,” he said. “You come out of this appreciating what you had.”

That being said, the season will only start if it can be done safely.

“Soon, we’ll make people laugh again and forget their problems and forget the last couple of years,” Instenes said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO 

The Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave., with a dusk sky in the background.


Govt-and-politics
alert
ELECTION INVESTIGATION
UPDATED: Wisconsin election clerks confused by investigation email

Wisconsin election clerks are reacting with a mixture of concern and confusion to the first inquiry made by a special investigator hired by Republicans to examine how the 2020 presidential election was run in the battleground state.

Based on an Associated Press survey of all 72 county election clerks, the email Monday from the lead investigator landed in the junk folders of at least seven counties and wasn’t received by at least 10 others. Several that did get it flagged it as a security risk.

Christensen

Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen told The Journal Times on Monday that she never received the email.

Gableman

Clerks for at least six counties said they would not be forwarding the email to municipalities in their jurisdiction as the investigator, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, requested.

“If there was fraud, it wasn’t in my county,” Christopher Marlow, the Lincoln County clerk, told the AP. “We keep very accurate voter lists and we are diligent in our work. All our voters are alive and received one vote each!”

Former President Donald Trump won Lincoln County with 61% of the vote in 2020.

The pushback and confusion from clerks is just the latest twist in Wisconsin, where conservatives at Trump’s encouragement are ordering investigations into the 2020 election. President Joe Biden carried the state by just under 21,000 votes.

Republicans have authorized an investigation by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which is expected to be done this fall. A handful of Republicans, including the Assembly elections committee chairwoman, are pushing for a broader review similar to the much-derided effort in Arizona led by Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity firm based in Florida picked to lead the review.

The elections committee chairwoman, Rep. Janel Brandtjen, tried to subpoena voting machines, ballots and other election data in two counties. But her request was rejected by both counties, citing a state law that said the subpoenas had to be signed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to be valid.

Vos said he would not sign them.

Instead, Vos hired Gableman, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $680,000, to lead another investigation.

But it’s off to a rocky start.

Two retired police detectives Vos initially hired to assist Gableman quit this summer, saying the job would take more time than they anticipated. Vos then revised the contract with Gableman, giving him authority to hire whoever he wants.

Gableman has already traveled to Arizona and attended a conference in South Dakota led by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, where election conspiracy theorists made presentations. Gableman is also consulting with Shiva Ayyadurai, a losing U.S. Senate candidate who appeared in a conspiracy theory-fueled film and falsely claimed a million ballots were destroyed in Massachusetts, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Tuesday.

The Gableman probe has drawn bipartisan criticism.

On Monday, an email signed by Gableman was sent to at least 23 of the state’s 72 counties, based on the AP tally. The email included an attachment addressed to clerks, asking them to preserve “any and all records and evidence” related to the 2020 presidential election. It also asks the county clerks to share the email with more than 1,800 municipal clerks who run elections.

Even though Gableman’s name was in the body of the email and on the attached letter, the email itself came from someone named “john delta” at a gmail.com address. The pdf attachment lists “Andrew Kloster” as the author. He is a former Trump administration official and an attorney. Neither he nor Gableman responded to a request for comment.

The format of the email raised concerns in several Wisconsin counties.

“The sender was not the person signing the email and a PDF attachment from an unknown sender is considered suspicious,” said Liz Otto, Green Lake County clerk. “Our IT Department has advised deleting any and all suspicious emails and/or attachments. Since this email falls into that category, I did not open it and will not be forwarding it on to any of our municipal clerks.”

Trump won Green Lake County with 67% of the vote.

Ashley Reichert, the Washington County clerk, said she got the email but won’t open the attachment until her IT department verifies that it is safe to do so. Trump won that county with 68% of the vote.

Clerks in the two largest counties of Milwaukee and Dane said Gableman didn’t understand how elections work because he asked for information retained on voting machines, but all data is kept on memory cards and then loaded onto servers.

Trump lost in both of those counties and recounts upheld Biden’s win.

Several clerks objected to Gableman asking them to preserve records that state and federal law already requires them to maintain for 22 months after an election.

“For me it was really a ‘nothing’ letter,” said Trent Miner, the clerk in Wood County, which Trump won with 59% of the vote.


Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) fumbles the ball after being hit by New Orleans Saints linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon (90) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)


Local
alert
WIS. SUPREME COURT
Racine Unified's summer projects are delayed as lawsuit regarding referendum recount continues

RACINE — With oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court over its referendum scheduled for Nov. 22 and a decision timetable up in the air, Racine Unified School District is expecting a delay on its summer projects.

The $1 billion referendum passed by four votes in April 2020 after a recount. Over the next 30 years, funds from the referendum would close nine school buildings, build five new ones and complete other renovation projects throughout the district.

Referendum opponents — including the group Honest, Open Transparent (HOT) Government — filed suit against the district, alleging the votes were not counted accurately since they were tabulated by RUSD employees who wanted the referendum to pass.

“We look forward to this process moving forward,” RUSD Spokesperson Stacy Tapp said in an email. “It’s been disappointing to put improvement projects on hold knowing the positive impact they will have on our students. But we are confident in the merits of the case and believe the will of the Racine voters will prevail.”

With a hearing date scheduled, Chief Operations Manager Shannon Gordon updated the School Board during Monday night’s special board meeting and work session.

Gordon

“It is very likely that we will be limited in implementing our currently planned projects this summer, or this coming summer,” Gordon said. “We will provide a full impact update to the board as part of our updated long range facility master plan in November.”

The case is James Sewell v. Racine Unified School Dist. Bd. of Canvassers.

The district is set to release its facility master plan website on Sept. 20, where updates and feedback opportunities will be held, including any changes to plans and explanations for those changes. The district, Gordon said, also is working to assemble school teams so stakeholders are able to provide feedback on Phase One projects.

These teams would include Jerstad-Agerholm, Starbuck Middle, Julian Thomas Elementary and Schulte Elementary School community members, which would have input on school design. This, however, is just the start, as the district looks forward on strategies to involve the community and local businesses.

“We will continue our discussion on strategies, aligned perfectly with the Office of Finance Report on engaging underutilized businesses and our work, and on how, throughout the 10-year implementation of the facility master plan and the referendum work, we can increase our participation of both local and underutilized businesses,” Gordon said.


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